Operator Control Moves—Too Many or Too Few?

by | Apr 13, 2021 | Control & Safety Systems, Operator Performance

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Social Marketing Leader

The Center for Operator Performance (COP) combines industry companies, suppliers, and academia:

…to raise the performance level of our operators and improve Health, Safety, and Environmental effectiveness is accomplished through:

  • Openly sharing knowledge and ideas,
  • Including vendors in research decisions,
  • Teaming with leading human factors researchers and universities, and
  • Collaborating with a focus on HS&E.

They are meeting this week to provide members an update of where the current research stands. Visit the COP Research Overview page for a list of the researchers, technical papers, approach to research, factors affecting operator performance, and background of COP’s efforts. Emerson is a COP member and uses the findings from much of the research to drive technology enhancements to help operators improve their effectiveness.

I listened in on an update one of the areas of research on the limits of control on operator console workload—how many control changes are either too few or too many for operational effectiveness. The intended results of this research are to measure operator performance as a function of workload to determine if there is an inverted “U”, where high and low workloads degrade performance.

Here are a few notes to give you a flavor for the work of the Center. The study is looking at different methods to determine operational limits for board moves made by the operators. Factors that determine these limits is current plant performance in terms of safety, production and quality, the levels of automation in the plant, process improvements, design criteria, training effectiveness, and the extent of state-based control used.

The key question to answer is, “How many control changes can an operator handle before performance declines?”

Anecdotal responses to this question create an inverted bath curve where there is an optimal performance mid-level zone that’s not too low (operator boredom) or too high (operator overload). The research begins with an industrial analysis using “return-to-normal” time. A model will be developed and validated for predictiveness based on response times.

While much research has been done on alarm flooding and how it affects operator performance, this research focuses on the actual control moves the operator makes and what is optimal. COP data does not show a correlation between alarms and control moves. It will be interesting to see how this research unfolds.

Visit the Center for Operator Performance Membership Information for more on how your company can become involved and benefit from much of this research on ways to improve operator effectiveness.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.